AFTER the short interlude to accommodate International football, it is back to the serious business on Sunday as Celtic look to take a massive step towards securing 8 in a row against Steven Gerrard’s Rangers side.
The Celtic players will be looking to avenge the defeat they suffered at Ibrox on 29 December when an under-strength Celtic side was outplayed and outfought by the home side. The resulting final game before the winter break meant that the Rangers moved to join Celtic at the top of the table, although they had played one game more. The Ibrox fans were in a confident mood that this could well be their year. However, it could be sports can be unpredictable based on who is in form.
At present, the head to head prediction in the Celtic and Rangers game odds for a Celtic win stands at 4/5, tipping the scales in the favour of the Celtic team. Whereas, the odds for Rangers to come through and pull off a victory is slotted at a 4/1 odds. On the other hand, the chances of witnessing a draw are pinned at 11/4. Various online bookies are strongly backing the Celtic considering that their performance in the last 5 matches has been phenomenal, to say the least. Out of 5 matches, the Celtics have won 4 and drawn 1. Conversely, the Rangers have won 1, lost 1, and have 3 draws in their kitty.
All in all, it appears as though the Celtic team is going strong with a 10-point lead over the Rangers. Given that they have been having a good season would have definitely put them in a good headspace. Plus, they do not have the same amount of pressure like the kind being faced by the Rangers. There is a very strong likelihood of a whopping 5/2 for the Celtic to score between 30:01 and half time as they have been doing for the past few games. In fact, it is being projected that Celtic may win with a score against a nil with odds as plump as 2/1 swinging in their favour! Additionally, a Celtic win with 2-0 is predicted at 29/4. Unfortunately for the Rangers, they have been unable to score in the last three league visits to the Celtic Park turf.
Since the play got back underway towards the end of January, Celtic have pulled away from the Rangers and indeed the other challenges Kilmarnock and Aberdeen and the odds on Celtic securing the title yet again have narrowed dramatically. Rangers are strong favourites to finish in the second spot, which will be a disappointment to Derek McInnes who has been the best of the rest behind Celtic for the previous four seasons.
The Scottish Champions had three league matches in January and took maximum points, without conceding a single goal. St Mirren was beaten 4-0, Hamilton lost 3-0 and St Johnstone went down 2-0 – this being Celtic’s game in hand.
February, though, looked like being a much stiffer test for Celtic, particularly with some tricky away fixtures on the cards. The month opened with another match against St Johnstone – this time at McDiarmid Park – and it was looking like a frustrating afternoon for the visitors until James Forrest broke the deadlock with just over ten minutes remaining. Substitute Timo Weah added a second in stoppage time to wrap up the points.
It was then back to Celtic Park for the midweek visit of Hibernian and Celtic continued their winning run with two goals from Ryan Christie and Oli Burke. Scott Bain, who had replaced Craig Gordon as Celtic’s first pick keeper after the match at Ibrox, kept his exceptional 2019 clean sheet record intact.
After progressing in the Scottish Cup and Celtic are the favourites to retain the cup for the third season with the online bookies, it was back to league business at Rugby Park on 17 February. Kilmarnock had inflicted defeats on Celtic on their previous two visits to Ayrshire, and they had recently beat the Rangers so their confidence was high. Killie had lost to Rangers in the Scottish Cup after a replay and that meant that Aberdeen and Rangers would meet in the Quarter Final, with bookies making Rangers the favourites. However, after a draw at Pittodrie, McInnes’ side shocked punters at Ibrox in the replay with a comfortable 2-0 win to set up a semi-final with Celtic.
Celtic’s game at Kilmarnock was goalless until stoppage time when skipper Scott Brown’s deflected volley found its way into the Kilmarnock net to give Celtic the three points. It was a significant win for the league leaders who were now 7 points clear of nearest challengers the Rangers.
On 24 February Motherwell were the visitors to Celtic Park – a game that was notable for two things. Firstly, Scott Bain conceded his first domestic goal of the year and in controversial circumstances. Motherwell failed to return the ball after an injury stoppage and instead broke away to score. That unsporting behaviour reduced Celtic’s lead to 2-1 but two more goals were scored by the Champions in the closing stages to seal the victory.
It would also be the last match that Brendan Rodgers would be in charge, he was on his way to Leicester City within a day or two of that win and Neil Lennon – who had left Hibs by mutual consent in January – stepped in as Interim boss until at least the summer.
The Celtic support was angered by the manner of their former manager’s departure, particularly the timing. Celtic had a crucial league game away to Hearts that midweek and were back in Edinburgh to play Hibs in the Scottish Cup that weekend, as Celtic moved into March.. And just like at Rugby Park, both Tynecastle and Easter Road were grounds that Celtic had suffered defeats on their previous two visits.
These games were going to be a real baptism of fire for the former Hibs manager Neil Lennon and their outcomes would shape Celtic’s season and his own future at the club.
Celtic took the lead through James Forrest at Tynecastle but slack defending allowed Hearts to equalise in the second half after Kris Ajer gave away a penalty. The game was deep into stoppage time when Scott Brown floated in a cross and Odsonne Edouard met it perfectly to give Celtic jet another late winner.
And Hibs were also taken care of in the Scottish Cup four days later with Forrest and Brown getting the goals in the second half.
Next up was Aberdeen at Celtic Park and for the first time in 2019, Celtic failed to win a domestic match. The visitors parked the bus and Celtic were below par in a match that ended goalless.
Next up was a trip to Dens Park and with 95 minutes played his game was also goalless. But with the final attack of the game, Forrest found space in a crowded penalty area, to cut back for Edouard to finish perfectly.
These late winners were making all the difference. They say that the league table doesn’t lie and while there were four teams with a few points of each other at the end of December, Celtic go into this weekend’s match against the Rangers 10 points ahead of the Ibrox club, 18 ahead of Aberdeen and 19 ahead of Kilmarnock.
And a win at the weekend would increase the lead at the top of the table to 13 points with two matches to come before the split – away to St Mirren and at home to Livingston, both at the start of April.
Three wins will see the ice being placed in the champagne buckets ready for Celtic’s 8IAR party.